For San Diego's North County Times
In a time of budget deficits and nasty politics, it's been a welcome relief to read about teachers of the year selected by our local school districts. It brings back memories of Mrs. Myrtle Hilde, my favorite high school teacher. Together with her ample girth and sense of humor, Mrs. Hilde filled her classroom with infectious enthusiasm for what she taught.
History had always been my least favorite subject. Memorizing dates and names of events and famous people struck me as a meaningless exercise compared with the important business of impressing girls between classes and coaches in the gym after school.
Mrs. Hilde brought American history alive with gossipy asides, like Tom Jefferson's illicit love affair with Sally Hemmings, one of his Monticello slaves. She used the first names of historical figures as if they were members of her family. I began to see them not as pigeon-splattered statues, but as real people with real problems. She helped us see connections between their distant world and our hormone-driven young lives.
Our local teaching stars show the same energy and dedication to their work as the teacher who awakened in me a love of history that endures to this day.
Here's a sample of what they told this newspaper's Stacy Brandt:
"I absolutely love what I do. ... I wake up every single morning, so excited to spend the day with my students."
"I just feel strongly that all children can learn. Every child has the potential to be anything that they want."
"The students are the ones that deserve the award, because they're the reason that I got it. They inspire me to be a better teacher."
"I like running a very energetic class. We use a lot of technology. We move a lot. We put lessons to songs. Every person is brilliant in his or her own way."
All the talk about school reform boils down to the question of how to attract and retain teachers like these. Abandoning public schools isn't the answer, nor is eliminating teacher unions. California's nonunion charter schools, as a group, have been no more successful in producing measurable results in student learning than other public schools.
The current debate in California is whether to balance the budget by cutting school funding or by maintaining current tax levels.
As we consider what's best for our children's future, we need to worry at least as much about burdening them with an inadequate education as burdening them with government debt.